During the Sixth International Women’s Trade Expo and Symposium 2022, Federation of Woman Entrepreneurs’ Association of Nepal (FWEAN) and South Asia Watch on Trade, Economics and Environment (SAWTTE), jointly organized a Panel Discussion on “Role of Trade Facilitation- Promoting Women-Led Enterprises Access to International Markets.
Opening the program, Ms. Dikshya Singh, Programme Coordinator, SAWTEE highlighted women-led that empirical studies have shown that women owned businesses are small in size, are less profitable, borne out of necessity and limited to local markets. Moreover, only 17 percent of the women-led enterprises are actually involved in export in Nepal. Since economy is a gendered structure, challenges and obstacles faced by women entrepreneurs are not the same as the ones faced by men, that is why policies need to be gender-responsive.
Lack of access to information about foreign trade procedures and schemes, and limited access to trade fairs, limited access to finance and high trade and transaction cost are some of the barriers women face while trading. Similarly, lack of female presence in trading places and policy making gives a somewhat not welcoming environment for women to be involved in trade. Policies need to address all these issues.
Shyam Prasad Dahal, trade facilitation expert, provided his remarks from a customs perspective on how access to international market can be ensured for women in trade. Nepal Customs has not been able to adopt electronic submission of customs documents, which is posing as burden for trade. Customs has already implemented electronic payment for export and import procedures, which makes it easier for entrepreneurs to trade. Paperless trade can ensure seamless movement of cargo for trade and reduce the burdensome processes, hence making trading more accessible to small entrepreneurs.
Upon the request of Mr. Dahal, Ms. Pratistha Koirala, Section Officer, Department of Customs (DoC), provided a brief explanation on how the customs reform and modernization action plan (CRMSAP) is incorporating the gender equality and social inclusion (GESI) aspect. Currently the DoC is carrying out research to identify which components of GESI can be incorporated in the CRMSAP. Recognizing that sensitization is important for the implementation of a gender friendly policy, the DoC is aiming for a gender friendly policy for effective trade facilitation.
Mahalaxmi Shrestha, General Secretary, FWEAN, explained the hurdles she encountered while beginning her beekeeping business. Businesses were heavily male dominated and women were discouraged to enter any business. Through many hurdles, Ms. Shrestha explained that the beekeeping industry was untapped and entering the industry provided her with the opportunity to conduct heavy research into the beekeeping industry. However, the growth she encountered was slow going as access to finance was limited more so than today, knowledge on export was limited more so to women and the socio economic aspects did not help either. Although some provisions have been eased for women led businesses, many women still encounter many hurdles to start a business and be involved in trading.
Shrestha, explained that access to finance and finding appropriate markets to export are still posing as hurdles for women. While TEPC provides trainings regarding the procedures to export, information about international markets, and providing access to international markets via B2B contact can prove to be more effective. Government policies such as NTIS have been introduced but benefits have not been realized. SPS/TBT related issues are another burden that women entrepreneurs are facing. DFTQC provides certain testing certification, but different countries require different types of certifications, which DFTQC lacks in providing. Similarly, availability of certificates and documents required to export are not provided in a timely manner. She stressed that issues such as these need to be a high priority of the government. Ms. Shrestha expressed happiness that the customs reform plan is in the process of incorporating the GESI component.
Sita Adhikari, Nepal Freight Forwarders’ Association and a successful freight business owner, began her remarks by explaining that limited and not so transparent access to information regarding trade procedures is posing as barriers to trade for women. She further explained that there are many procedures in trade that are barriers to all entrepreneurs. Ms. Adhikari stressed that by reducing the logistics cost, businesses can flourish. She further expressed that women are discouraged in both doing business as well as private sector umbrella organizations. Ms. Adhikari also explained that there is rivalry and harassment further discourages women entrepreneurs. She further explained that lack of gender sensitive infrastructure is also present in the southern. She ended her remarks by emphasizing that a holistic approach is needed to encourage entrepreneurs and women in trade.
Rekha Aryal, Board Member, SABAH Nepal, explained that women entrepreneurs are responsible for the entry of foreign currency in Nepal. She further expressed that access to finance is one of the biggest hurdles that women face. Women face harassment in bureaucratic procedures as well as facing socio-economic difficulties. Ms. Aryal stressed that until women are in a strong financial position, difficulties and hurdles will still be present, thus it is important that gender based issues are solved from the policy level.
Claudius Preville, Investment Support Team Leader/Investment Facility Director, EU-Nepal Trade and Investment, European Union, explained that EU project is working towards proposing solutions to attract foreign investment and access to international markets. Similarly, strengthening trade and industrial policies is another priority. Addressing the knowledge gap is also a priority of the project. EU is working closely with the ministry and private sector organizations EU is working towards creating a synergy. EU is also working towards formulating the NTIS 2022 with experts. Mr. Preville explained that addressing the knowledge gap can provide women with national and international opportunities, which FWEAN is also working towards.
Sarad Bikram Rana, Executive Director, Trade and Export Promotion Center (TEPC), Chair of the panel discussion, in his remarks explained that the TEPC’s trade information portal has provided all the necessary information needed for future entrepreneurs and procedures for international trade. Mr. Rana, further explained that TEPC provides entrepreneurs wishing to export training to utilize international trade center’s (ITC) market access map tool, which provided market access information of possible markets for export of each product. Regarding access to finance, Mr. Rana explained that many financial institutions have provisions to provide loans to only women, those should be utilized. Lastly, Mr. Rana stressed that FWEAN and women entrepreneurs need to provide recommendations to policy makers on how women can be more involved in trade.